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Killing Time And Crewmates

Regina     After boarding the IMS Kugar Akemudir, the crew had been delivered to the two staterooms they would share during their transit.  In the coming hours, the freight ship's crew would finish squaring away cargo operations and start moving the ship to the system's jump point.  Then, in the coming two or three weeks, they'd be in transit to the Dinomn system.  From there, they would be able to buy fuel and jump the Hotel California into the Regina system during a last week of travel.  The only question was, 'would the Kugar Akemudir hand them off to another cargo ship in the Ghandi system for the jump to Dinomn or not?'

The question was important for a number of reasons.  If they didn't get handed off, they'd likely have to rent rooms and pay for meals in the Ghandi system for the week of drive resets and cargo operations the Kugar Akemudir would spend there.  While that would mean a three-week trip instead of two-weeks, a "hand off" would be very expensive and have to have been set up by someone with a lot of power.  And, if that was the case, it would mean "someone" wanted them in the Regina system more badly than they knew.  And that was a chance that made everyone in the crew less than comfortable.  Still, it was time to settle in and decide who would live where?  That ended up being one stateroom for "the couples" and the other as a "bachelor's stateroom" for the rest.

The next issue was one of recreation.  If Terin broke out his hookah, it would heavily foul the air in the stateroom he did it in.  So, even if he had the permission of everyone in the space, the air would become so foul in so short a period of time that they'd have to open the stateroom hatch to the passages.  That could cause issues with the ship's crew and other passengers.  Beyond that, Terin and those with bottles had to get creative storing all their glassware(the hookah and bottles) in the limited space without something being damaged.  This had them padding their items with clothes as they packed the small lockers available to each.

Once inside, the staterooms were the spartan sort of space any IISS or naval veteran would be used to.  A standard size stateroom with a set of "one over the other" bunkbeds to the left and right so it housed four crew, six with 'hot bunking'.  And, there was a fresher included as part of the space, to the immediate left as one entered.  To the Marine and Army vets, this was spacious, as they were used to spaces organized as bays with rows of bunkbeds running, floor to ceiling, down the length of "barracks" bays.  Gaps between beds in those allowed material movement in the compartment.  And troops shared large latrine compartments directly connected to the space.  Everyone had also been in co-ed military housing where they slept and even bathed together.  So, everyone could survive the cramping for a few weeks.

The one "issue" which would have to be negotiated would be sex in the couple's room.  the two couples would have to decide how to create privacy if it was desired.  That was a more important issue depending on how long the trip was going to be?  They knew they would spend a week jumping from Lanth to the Ghandi system.  And then, another week jumping from Ghandi to the Dinomn system.  After that, they could have the Hotel California unpacked and make the jump to the Regina system on their own rockets.  But once the Kugar Akemudir arrived in the Ghandi system, they did not know if they'd be stuck waiting for the Kugar Akemudir to finish her cargo and engineering operations or be handed off to another hauler?  If they were handed off, this would cut out the week waiting from the trip, which would provide a week of privacy in the Ghandi port hotels in partial compensation for the delay.

As well as the hookah, the crew had to reconsider their planned drinking.  Inside their assigned staterooms, they could do as they pleased but the minute someone got drunk enough to leave and interfere with other passengers or the crew.. So, the crew reconsidered their plans for the trip to Regina.  Then, Fesic asked about having someone trained in unarmed combat in each room, in case others aboard the freighter tried to force their way into one of the two staterooms, or both.  Or if some kind of attack was mounted against them.  Zimzod pointed out they were all unarmed and unequipped.  If even one of the battledressed troopers tried to force anything, they were screwed, and they might as well relax.  When Fesic clarified he was worried Rol was a target and should be defended, that only got a laugh and the issue was allowed to drop.

After they all settled in for the coming week, Rol planned to work on his book after moving the software and file to his datapad on the California.  He also planned to do stent-work between meals, sleep and take part in exercise periods in the recreation concourse.  Fesic mainly wanted to get some learning and practice in with his electronic lock picking device but there were very few locks to work with and they were not significant enough to spend time on.  Sadly, they were all he had.  In the couple's stateroom, Mikah had brought a large amount of reading material with her and planned to work on that despite what Zimzod wanted to do.  Meanwhile, Terin committed himself to his stent-work as well as those modules from his computer classes he could load on his hand-comp.  Munarshu devoted his extra time to robotics studies while Emkir worked on the Sohturn Behemoth trade data and taking time off to work on his linguistics projects.

When Aali considered what to do with her free time, she planned to do more stent-work.  Since Terin and Rol were also interested in using comm dots to create a "stent-based network", Aali decided the coming weeks would be a good time to do group training.  When she suggested that to the two men, they did a check on who had what supplies?  Aali always had one dot connected to her stent and another connected to her comms as well as the comm dot mux.  This meant she could always network her stent with her comms to reach other computer systems with active comms ports, and had been practicing on reaching out to those devices.

Aali had also been working with the androids on the ship and tested her reach to confirm she could even reach them from their staterooms aboard the freighter.  She'd used that connection to order them to 'low-power' work, because the California's power plant had been powered down and they needed to conserve power to remain operational.  She set the housekeeping 'droids to the lowest level of operations and the most able engineering 'droids to take the lead.  With that experience, Aali felt she could teach the others to better connect to devices.  While Rol had not found a set of comm dots to buy, Terin had his set and they could pool their spare dots to set everyone up.  Even Zimzod joined in, once the idea got rolling.

As people worked at their projects over the week, the regular food deliveries brought meals which could best be described as "solidified nutritional blocks" of food-material.  When he first saw the "food".  Emkir joked, "Who wants some whiskey?" and Mikah very quickly said, "Me!"  After she was the first, everyone in the crew found it better to have some booze with their meals, to help wash the blocks down.  Changing plans, despite the large number of bottles the crew brought with them, the drinking was kept to a minimum.  This was because they were living on top of each other in more enclosed spaces and the ship's working crew would not take their drunken actions well either.

Everyone in the crew took their chances to use the concourse to exercise outside their staterooms, but were less than impressed with the machines and gear available to them.  When Mikah decided to offer drills in unarmed combat, they all figured "why not?" and took part in a thinly disguised version of 'Lady Mikah beats up the crew'.  Because those in battledress from the "corporate security" group had clearly been allowed to share the public space while those from the California had their exercise time, most of them decided to 'watch the entertainment'.  And, after a while, Mikah decided it was time to show off for them, and decided to challenge her entire crew to come at her, 'One vs many'.

As some of the crew took the challenge and formed up, the others settled back to watch, apart from the battledressed figures.  While Zimzod, Aali and Fesic formed up, Terin took the wrong tactical clues and Munarshu slipped in behind the main line hoping to move in either when Mikah was overloaded or made tired by taking out the others.  When Terin charged in, Mikah grabbed him and used his own momentum to swing him across her extended foot, knocking him down.  As the line moved up, Mikah hauled Terin back up by the hand of his she still had a grip on, and hit him in the solar plexus, further disabling him.  Mikah then flung Terin into the approaching line, slamming him into Aali as the line moved forward.  So Terin was first out of the fight.

Using the best tactics available to her, Mikah followed Terin in while he did his best imitation of "flung rag doll".  As Aali did her best to bat him out of her way, and the others reacted to Mikah's move, Aali found herself 'first in line' for direct engagement.  While Zimzod and Fesic moved to pivot, Aali tried to react to Mikah's sudden and direct strikes.  Then, Mikah was through the line and Aali was down as Munarshu was surprised to find himself blocking strikes while Zimzod and Fesic broke their line to swarm.  Knowing they expected a flanking advantage, and Munarshu was no threat, Mikah blocked the engineer's attacks and threw a raised kick to the side to catch Fesic in the chest!

The air whooshed out of his lungs as the gunner was knocked back and down, and spent the next few minutes getting his body breathing again.  That put him out of the fight long enough that Mikah could finish the two others off and come back to kill him before he recovered.  That meant he was a 'mission kill' for the exercise.  Still, Zimzod pressed and Mikah had to do her best to maneuver, keeping Munarshu partly in Zimzod's way as she worked.  That took just long enough for her to enjoy putting Munarshu down with a strike to the head and kick to the groin before it was a 'one on one'.  But there was no time to acknowledge that as she and Zimzod were already face to face and went at it.

Fesic was finally just starting to breath a bit normally as Mikah finally delivered a hook-kick behind Zimzod's right leg and a palm strike to his chest.  In a 'last gasp' to stay in the fight, Zimzod snatched and grabbed at Mikah's striking arm.  That let him bring her down with him as he fell back and hit hard.  Unable to roll, Zimzod and Mikah struggled into positions where they could each do no more than kill the other - stalemate.  Recognizing the fight was over, Zimzod and Mikah helped each other to stand in the silence that followed and both could feel the grudging approval from the postures of the armored troopers watching.

At the same time, Aali would recover the fastest while Munarshu would take more time to "walk off" the groin-kick.  The silence, and perhaps the grudging respect, lasted until Zimzod checked himself over and said, "Ok babe.  Let's go to the stateroom and fuck!" with a smile on his face.  Mikah simply smacked Zimzod before checking the injuries of her crew to make sure she had not been 'over-enthusiastic'.  After that, the crew had used their allotted time and had to return to their staterooms for the moment.  Later, Mikah was told the freighter's deck crew would let them have more work-out time, because they were using the time to good effect.  As the week started to pass, Mikah made sure there were continued drills.  In the evenings, Emkir had his deck of cards so they could play poker to pass the time.

The only misstep made came a few days after the first exercise, when Munarshu got close enough to one of the watching battledressed figures to suggest Mikah could beat their troopers up too.  Perhaps disgusted with the spacer's attitude and ignorance, the man simply grabbed Munarshu using the enhanced abilities of his battledress and "lightly" beat him up as everyone else in the compartment stopped to watch.  Not sure what started it but sure it was Munarshu's fault, Mikah moved in to check him over as the trooper said, "Compare that to how she beat you up and decide who was better?"  And Munarshu was not that badly damaged, with a few ribs cracked, so he'd live.  But he was out of the exercises from then on, and even spent the next day in his bunk recovering, except for meals.


First Looks After Arrival

     Overnight, as he'd slept after getting beaten up, Terin snuck to Munarshu's bunk in the dark and used a permanent marker to write on Munarshu's forehead, "I'm stupid."  As the crew woke, and after Mikah was told Munarshu planned to spend that day in his bunk recovering, Mikah came to check on him again.  Seeing the inscription on his forehead, she swallowed a giggle or two and said, "Well, we all knew that."  Not knowing what Mikah was talking about, Munarshu just shrugged her comment off as she checked him over.  Finally, Mikah confirmed what she knew and decided on a more entertaining diagnostic method as she poked him hard over the cracked rib and asked, "Does this hurt?"  As he winced and said it did, she nodded and told him to rest.

After the medical check-up was done, Munarshu did get up to gently clean himself up.  It was then that he first saw Terin's joke written across his forehead in the mirror and understood Mikah's comment.  He continued healing, and the crew kept up at their activities as the week continued to pass.  Two days before the scheduled end of the jump, an officer came down from the bridge to discuss their arrival in the Ghandi system with the leader of each group of passengers.  Mikah was told her people needed to leave the ship during the week in Ghandi, while the freighter's crew did their work.  They'd be allowed to re-board six days after that, as the ship prepared for the jump to the Dinomn system, but would have to live on the economy until then.

Once she was told that, Mikah checked her data on the Ghandi system to see the starport was a "B" class.  That meant there would be shipyards, significant ship and crew services and likely even a TAS Hotel and support facility.  Beyond that, the population, in the tens of thousands, were all somehow related to support of the military bases and civilian ports there.   Those not in the military served the feudal houses which controlled the schools and industries of the system, often even controlling housing and other basic opportunities.  And the Feudal houses were always interested in those coming from other worlds with skills they could add to their technocracies.

Still, the "rock" that was the Ghandi system's "mainworld" was just that.  A small rock around which many arcologies orbited.  One could not have military weapons or even concealable personal weapons outside their homes and everyone was "safety-minded", in a society where any bulkhead breach could lead to death for many.  The system did not have much to offer and seemed to offer even that much only grudgingly.  Starships would go elsewhere if their passengers could not get basic and some luxury services in-system and Ghandi needed the income from starship traffic to pay the bills.  But there was not even a downport component to either the civilian or military ports!  That was unusual in and of itself.

Still, everything that was there was expensive, because it was so much more expensive to build out starship traffic support facilities in another system, so they could get away with charging more.  And they would not be able to start making those arraignments until they were on the port's deck.  And the crew of the Kugar Akemudir would shuttle them from the freighter to the station.  That meant the second to last day of the jump was partly spent packing up and preparing to disembark the next day.  And the last day of jump was spent waiting to emerge from jump.  After that happened, they sat just outside their staterooms with their luggage until they were called to assemble at the shuttle bay and board.  That would be followed by the hour or so trip to one of the many smallcraft docking and embarkment bays.


A Brief Stopover

     After that hour-long ride, Mikah and her crew were unceremoniously dumped on the decks of the port to fend for themselves for the next week.  Next up was Ghandi system CHI.  They subjected the crew to another twenty minutes of inspection as their Idents were reviewed and their luggage scanned, avoiding questions about their military weapons and armor because those had been left aboard the containerized ship.  After that, the crew were faced with a large variety of solutions to their very few questions all of which would cost far too much of their cash.  First to be solved was housing.  "Rooms" ranged from Cr 150 to 250 per night for a "tube, with a lockable drawer for personal gear" to as much as KCr 30 per night suites with a view of the solar system and (uninspiring) mainworld.

Half-sized staterooms, in which they could stuff two people and their gear, would cost Cr 500 per night and full-sized staterooms, Cr 2,000.  When Emkir suggested he and Aali could fit in a half-stateroom, she gave him a look which first swept over all their collected gear before settling on Emkir.  When she spoke, she suggested they get a full-sized stateroom so they could relax after the week in compression.  When Emkir agreed, they booked a stateroom and waited until the rest of the crew were done. 

Over-hearing the discussions Emkir had started, Terin asked, "You guys wanna split one of the four-person rooms?" and Rol missed the point, asking how much a four-person room would cost while Fesic said he was in.  Terin made it clear he was talking about a standard stateroom sized compartment and they discussed the math, figuring each man would pay Cr 3,000 of the Cr 12,000 cost.  When Rol, who'd heard Fesic jump in, asked who the fourth person was, Terin jerked a thumb at Munarshu and said, "I guess, stupid, here", which got laughs from the others and a protest from Munarshu.  Reacting to Munarshu's protest, Terin pointed out that everyone could see what was written on his forehead plainly, and got even more laughs.

As Munarshu considered the amounts he did and did not want to spend on anything, and did not immediately commit to the group-stateroom, Rol considered the odds there would be some kind of fight breaking out in that stateroom over the coming week.  When Munarshu finally did decide to join the group room, Rol announced he'd decided to rent a Cr 500 half-stateroom for himself.  That meant Terin, Fesic and Munarshu were now on the hook for Cr 4,000 each for the week while Rol would pay Cr 3,000 for housing himself.  So, in the end, Rol had the last laugh on the others because he had a space to himself and paid Cr 1,000 less than the other three men.  Mikah and Zimzod also booked a full stateroom like Emkir and Aali.

With the rentals sorted, the crew had to settle into their digs before they could look into food.  Past that were considerations of entertainment and how to pass time for the next week.  Because he had been the only member of the crew to book a half-sized compartment, Rol's room was on a different level from the staterooms booked, but easy enough to move between.  So once they were settled, and had met up again, the next question was if they were going to eat as a crew or scatter to the winds for a week?  When Mikah said they should all work as a crew, the others agreed, accepting that they could separate from time to time to do things privately if they decided to.  When this was discussed, Mikah made it clear that was all except for Munarshu.

Mikah said she expected Munarshu to be accompanied anywhere he went, and with someone other than Terin.  When it was asked who he'd be "buddied up with", it was decided Fesic would be Munarshu's babysitter, though Terin did say the buddy system was best for all of them while on-station.  Ignoring Terin's comment, Mikah then started talking about food.  She agreed they did not want to go extravagant considering the costs they'd already run into and suggested they'd eat at astroburgers or the like because that was a ton better than what they'd had on the freighter.  Moving to a terminal to look up pricing, they realized that would cost them all about Cr 900 per person.  Despite the cost, everyone was good with that because it was better than what they had been eating on the ship.

When it came to food on the ship, even though it was a week away, Terin came up with the idea of buying MRE's or other combat rations to take onto the ship with them for the jump to the Dinomn system.  Looking around them, they knew there'd not be a lot of surplus stores and such selling the things on the civilian market in the system.  That meant they needed someone who had the proper credentials, and only two of the crew were "retirees" who could visit some sections of Imperial military bases to buy goods at the base exchange or commissary.  As they considered this, Mikah decided to buy some cases of beer to bring back to the ship with them.  As she planned, Mikah figured she'd buy the beer the day before they re-boarded the ship and have it delivered to their boarding space to make it easier on her.

While at the terminal, Mikah also checked to see if there was an office or other site representing their chivalric order, but found there was nothing obvious.  That suggested she would only find something if she spent some time digging and that wasn't a key objective of hers.  So, it was time to start looking around and get the lay of the land.  The first thing she noticed was that, even in the arrival areas of the port, there was a lot of reconstruction work going on.  In fact, it turned out that was repair work, and there were whole segments of the port and other facilities which were off limits.  This was because the Ghandi system had been invaded by the Zhodani 40th fleet during its drive to the Rhylanor system during the Fifth Frontier War.

This happened during their drive through Imperial defenses in early 1109, after fighting through the Mirriam and Calit systems in the Vilis subsector.  Thanks to the significant fighting in the Ghandi system, there were a large number of repairs to be done.  Still, with the "necessities" taken care of, each of the crew were also free to relax and explore what was there and open for them to check out, to the extent they wanted to pay for it?  Rol had decided he wanted to look into buying MRE's, for him to eat and so he could possibly use them as "rewards" when dealing with his crew.  Or sell them for a bit of a profit.  Unfortunately, his idea was stepped on as Munarshu made it clear he also wanted to hunt down a supply of MRE's.  But his desire was simpler, making sure the whole crew had better food to eat than the processed cubes on the freighter.

Accepting that his cash plan was dead, Rol also figured he'd be Munarshu's babysitter as the engineer helped him shop for rations.  The first move to get MRE's was to hit the local bases and visit a base commissary.  That took Rol and Munarshu an hour's ride and Cr 100 each in transit fees.  But, once there, they could find no displays of rations being sold as general products.  This may well have been because they system was still recovering from the occupation after being liberated near the end of 1109.  So, spare supplies of things like ration kits might not be available for general sales.  As well, it was possible there were "no spares" because it was possible a hot war could start immediately.  Accepting that path was not going to get them what they wanted, Rol and Munarshu decided they'd need to do more searching to find a source for MRE's as they spent the Cr 100 each to get back to the team.

Meanwhile, Fesic really wanted to try and play with his lock hacking unit, but knew he'd end up facing serious legal issues if he were caught doing that.  Because of that, Fesic decided he'd just hang out and see what happened.  And Emkir and Aali wanted to "start out" by completely soiling their bed sheets.  Mikah wanted to see if there were any interesting tourist or entertainment venues she could check out?  Because the system had to do something to get tourists to spend cash, there were a large number of cabarets, clubs, bars and other café-based music and near-burlesque type shows.  There were the intersystem types of side-show displays where people paid from Cr 1 to Cr 5 or more to "see the oddity".  There were venues for watching vids, live performances such as plays, dancing or acrobatics.

More directly, there were a few casinos and a large number of brothels serving male, and female clients including workers from Human, sub-human and non-human races.  There were competitive gaming parlors which were not casinos and catered to gaming aficionados.  There were even "maker-systems" for tech geeks and the remains of an amusement park, much of which was still under reconstruction.  Looking over their options once the crew, except Emkir and Aali, had gathered and Rol and Munarshu returned, Munarshu asked if they wanted to go bar hopping?  Out of the blue, Fesic just slapped the engineer, getting laughs from the others as Rol pointed to Fesic and told Munarshu, "Speak to the hand."

As Munarshu picked himself up off the ground, the training finished and others started picking various shows, performances and more, for fun over their week's stay.  Ultimately, together or in smaller groups based on tastes and interest, the crew spent their time on-station visiting shows, displays, entertainment venues, etc.  They each managed to spend in the area of Cr 1,000 on personal entertainment.  Rol went a bit further in his interests and ended up spending Cr 3,000 on high-end venues.

Down the road three days, after working to investigate and make connections, Rol and Munarshu were directed to meet with an officer in the local IISS quartermaster office.  Rol's plan took another hit as they met and chatted, and the officer connected better with Munarshu.  So, Rol sat back and let the two talk while adding in only those items he felt were needed.  Eventually, the man was able to offer the two Single Meal Rations(SMR's) for Cr 10 each and only wanted to know how many they wanted to buy?

There was some quick math done between the two men as they considered buying "extra", but remembered they would have to find ways to store what they needed in the two staterooms, much less the extra they didn't need.  They eventually bought enough extra meals to provide for ten days total at 240 SMR's and paid Cr 2,400, which Mikah approved from ship's funds.  The deal included delivery to one of their rented rooms and Rol let Munarshu receive that, because they had space for a fourth man in their rental.  So Munarshu, Fesic and Terin received a stack of boxes 20 high (10 inches each) as well as 40 inches by 32 inches.  It was enough to make a "center of the stateroom" table in each of the staterooms they'd have aboard the freighter.  Not to mention having to rent a gravPallet to move them aboard.  And when boarding day came, Munarshu had to pay the Cr 30 rental for a "pallet 'droid", which would help him move the boxes and then return to its owner.  The stack of boxes certainly surprised Mikah, who'd set up to have the two beer cases delivered to the ship that day.


The Second Jump

     Having had the crew aboard the Kugar Akemudir, the freighter in the previous jump, her crew knew what to expect from them and were a bit more lax in some restrictions for this second week.  Part of this was permission to use the shared exercise spaces more though they still had to stay in their staterooms while other groups were scheduled to use those spaces.  The freighter's officers did snicker a bit as the crew brought aboard the beer and rations.  As the rations were discussed, the deck officer for their staterooms said they'd get better flavored drinks provided with the meals they would get, even if they were using the SMR's.

Once the ship was under way, other than the meals and beer, the crew planned to do things the same as the week before.  Because he was still recovering, Munarshu stayed out of the exercises.  Of course, some people wished they'd stayed out of some of the trainings.  During one of those, a few days into the jump, Emkir was trying to talk Aali into taking advantage of the empty stateroom when one of the battledressed troopers offered, "Maybe she wants a real man." in a voice which managed to make the leer apparent.  As everyone from the California waited for a reaction from Emkir and Aali (and Fesic looked around for any chairs), Emkir stood tall and straight and glared into the trooper's faceplate as he invited, "Why don't you ask her?"

Now in the limelight, as heads and the trooper turned to Aali, he asked, "So, would you like a real man?" in the same leering voice.  Aali simply looked him up and down before appearing to fixate on the smooth carapace of his groin-armor section and saying, "I already have a real man.  And, from what I can see, you don't seem to have anything down there to start with.  So, maybe you need a real man."  In addition to the nasty burn, Aali managed to fill her answer with all the frost she could muster.  After that, the trooper decided to take his recreation somewhere else.  When Emkir raised his hands to applaud the trooper's retreat, Aali took his hands and lowered them for him, stopping the action.  Still, after the trooper left, Emkir got Aali into the stateroom for some fun.


Taking Care of Housekeeping At Dinomn

     When the Kugar Akemudir emerged from jump into the Dinomn system, the crew were packed and waiting to be transferred from the freighter to their ship.  That had to wait until the Hotel California had been "unpacked", so they waited for the call to move to the shuttle deck, leaving the battledressed mercenaries and their cargo behind.  Before them was Dinomn, before they could move on to Regina.  While the did not want to land, they did have to buy fuel for their drives.  When they contacted the local government to ask about options, they learned the gas giants were too distant to spend the time burning out-system.  As for scooping fuel from Dinomn's oceans, the world government had significantly high prices, which would charge them KCr 50!

Mikah and the others were shocked, because that was nearly what they'd paid for a full load of fuel elsewhere.  When Mikah asked for pricing from the port itself, they were quoted KCr 15 for unrefined fuel and KCr 40 for refined.  Of course, buying the unrefined fuel meant spending at least twelve hours refining the fuel too.  Mikah wanted to dock with the port and get fueled up, then drift out-system while refining the fuel.  But when she was told there would be fees both for the docking and for drifting as a flight hazard, Mikah decided to rent a short stay at a standoff from the port while they refined the fuel they'd bought.

Not happy she had to pay even more cash, Mikah finally agreed to pay the port Cr 1,000 for the standoff.  After making the decision, Mikah made it clear no one was leaving the ship.  Being that they'd waited six hours before getting back to the ship, their timeline was twelve hours before they would cast off again.  At the same time, Terin began gathering his data in order to plot the jump to the Regina system.  During the time they were docked, Aali and Munarshu were continuing to work on lighting up the ship's systems and running tests. Emkir made sure his flight boards were set up and went over his tests.  Zimzod worked on his gear and got his suits ready, making sure he had the proper clothing to wear once arriving at Regina.

By 5am local, having been awake nearly fourteen hours, Aali told Munarshu they were able to square away until they had to prepare for jump.  Since they had eight more hours in-port, and a four hour burn to the jump point, people who were not needed at that point grabbed sleep, and that included the engineers.  One thing Munarshu made sure not to miss was the interim meal Rol had made while everyone else was working at their stations.  Having been warned Munarshu was almost waxing poetic over the idea of eating Rol's cooking again after the fare on the freighter, Rol made sure to serve Munarshu an unprepared SMR in an unopened box.  That got him huge laughs from the others in the lounge at the time, after which Rol did serve Munarshu a cooked dish.

As they ate, Terin hit the vid-screen and selected a news broadcast to catch up on what the universe had been doing while they were out of the action? As the news came on, all those in the ship's lounge watched.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                           Date: 041 - 1113
  A Map of the Sword Worlds and Border Worlds  Early comments have been made regarding conversation between
    the offices of the Grand Duchess and Arch Duke with a number
    of the former Sword Worlds governments now comprising the
    newly declared Border Worlds Federation.  These new talks
    have reportedly splintered off from the Imperial Navy forced
    partitioning of the Sword Worlds to discuss diplomatic moves
    in light of the proposed Imperial Embassy to the Sacnoth
    system, historically one of the most antipathetic towards the
    Imperium. 

    Viewers will be reminded these events appear to have been
    precipitated by the invitation given to Lady Inger Martinusdtr Vik, to visit that
    system.  New data explained that the Arch Duke's office appears to have
    chosen that invitation, for her Ladyship's help to a number of stranded Sacnoth
    merchanters in Imperial space, to parlay it into a diplomatic move.  And
    while there were many nay sayers, it is surprising how quickly members of the
    Sacnoth diplomatic mission have agreed to talks.  While it is not expected
    that these talks will result in concrete moves beyond possible visits made by
    Lady Inger, these talks still expand on the more acrimonious partitioning talks.

    More significantly, a coalition of the remaining Sword World governments have
    also been granted permission to attend the talks in a non-binding presence.
    Nominally led by the Ambassador from the Gram system, those embassies sat as a
    blok.  As these talks proceed, it is even rumored that the Arch Duke and
    Grand Duchess will personally sit for talks with the assembled diplomats.  It
    has been confirmed by her office that Ambassador Vik has been participating in
    the talks directly, imparting into the discussions her experiences while a SPA
    Official as well as events while she served as a crew member of the Hotel
    California
, AKA the Pilot Error.

    Sting (B645896-A M 302 Bw M0 V)                            Date: 035 - 1113
    In talks in the newly partitioned Border Worlds system of Sting, it has been
    announced that system's government have refused the honor of being made Capital
    of the Border Worlds Federation.  As talks proceed on the subject, the Beater
    system appears likely to be the next proposed site of the Federation capital.
    Reports from those covering the talks expect the Beater system will accept the
    designation.  This, based largely on the fact that the Beater system are the
    crossroads of the new Federation, with X-boat and other key trade routes
    all crossing through their space.
                

As Terin and the others in the compartment listened, the broadcast continued to cover the history of Sword Worlds involvement in the Frontier wars.  In the First Frontier War, the Sword Worlds were led by the Sacnoth system into wars against both the Imperium and the Darrian Confederation.  As their Zhodani allies dealt the spinward border of the Imperial states a heavy blow, Sword World fleets managed to capture the four Entropic worlds for the first time.  This was not the source of competition between the Sword Worlds and Darrians for the worlds, but was the first major military outbreak to include them.  The Sacnoth government was later overthrown by a coalition led by the Gram system.

    Frenzie (A200436-A N Ni Va * 110 Im M2 III M3 D)                           Date: 060 - 1113
    News from Imperial Admiralty in the Frenzie system naval base have advanced
    the current response to events in the Dekalb and Thanber systems.  These responses
    have been made even more significant with the arrival of a transport flotilla
    from the Tukera Megacorporation, who have owned and governed the Thanber system
    for centuries.

    Executives of the Tukera corporation are requesting permission to join the
    evaluation of responses to the situation on Thanber.  Outside new information
    and directives from the Tukera executives, Admiral Kukakhumum-Lisen's staff have
    completed a survey of the known conditions and situations in both the Dekalb
    and Thanber systems.  Based on that, the Admiral has dispatched a secondary
    transport fleet carrying provisional supplies while also augmenting the initial
    naval elements already dispatched to maintain system security.

    In the end, the Admiral's office has stated the situation is now in hand.
    The Admiral and his senior staff have suggested the likely outcome of the
    event is to designate the systems as Imperial Client States, with advanced
    steps being taken to advance Thanber's status because that system had already
    applied for such status in the past.  Comments from the embassies of the Zhodani
    Consulate have been disapproving of moves which might destabilize the region
    in the future while comments from the Federation of Arden have been positive
    if subdued.
                

As that story played out, Mikah sarcastically asked, "How come they didn't see this coming?" as she joked about the vaunted Zhodani psychic powers.  Surely, she felt, their precognitive psychics should have known this would happen.  The other's laughed as this was a regular joke in Imperial circles whenever an engagement between Imperial and Zhodani forces ended with an Imperial victory.

    Regina (A788899-C A Ri Cp 703 Im F7 V M6 V M8 D)                           Date: 052 - 1113
    Word from the Duchy government of Regina has stated confirmation that Sir Rol
    Kaihvos is coming to the Regina system, to face the circumstances under
    examination since the release of Sir Jeremy Lewis' book "Crossing the Line".

    While Sir Rol does not face charges, a delegation from the Jesedipere system
    are seeking to have such charges lodged.  Despite the claims of this
    delegation, the Arch Duke's Seneschal, Mr. Branj Dilgaadin, has made it clear
    that the Imperial Navy and Admiralty have examined what facts were available
    in the case and found no lawful fault.

    Mr. Dilgaadin did accept that any significant new information could change
    that position, and the delegation's data would be considered seriously.  This
    position was echoed by Countess Josephine of Efate, the named Regent of the
    Duchy, who has been managing the affairs of both the Duchy and her County from
    the Regina system.  This was significant given the damage and on-going
    reconstruction in the Efate system due to damage in the Fifth Frontier War.
    Countess Josephine's position is significantly critical given the many
    atrocities reported in that system.

    As expected, the Zhodani Ambassador denies all accusations of atrocities and
    claims the High Council of Chronor will be willing to present evidence to
    support the innocence of Zhodani troops If Imperial authorities examining
    the actions would be willing to back off their rabid hatred of psionics.
    If not, the Ambassador stated, the Consulate could not risk such valuable
    veterans to murder or lobotomization simply based on the pervasive Imperial
    paranoia regarding the use of natural Human mental abilities.

    In a related story, the legal team who had been handling the case for Sir
    Jeremy Lewis have summarily handed in a resignation letter and stepped down.
    Following this news, the Duchy government are working to provide
    representation.  This followed events two weeks previously when Sir Jeremy had
    made a social call on the Viscountess Igishe Bimiga, living in retirement
    in-system.  Her security personnel, maintained in part by the Imperial Navy
    due to her late husband's heroic naval record, foiled the attempt and managed
    to kill the team of assassins while detaining an involved conspirator.
    There is no update, at this time, on the questioning of this person, with
    no public release on how soon Sir Rol will be arriving?
         

    Natoko (C8879AB-9 Green Hi 904 F4 V)                           Date: 042 - 1113
    In reports forwarded from the Natoko system, the command of the Imperial forces
    in-system have determined some of those forces which attacked naval squadrons
    in-system arrived from a system three parsecs away.  While the system was not
    named in their reports, it is suggested by TAS that only the Byret (Mora) or
    Quiru(Lunion) systems qualify for that description.  Two other systems are
    interdicted and have Imperial naval fleets assigned, so are not likely involved.

    The Admiralty have cut orders to further deploy forces and identify any vessels
    which might have returned to the system after the attack or seek information on
    the planning of the attack as well as clues on where the elements might have hoped
    to move to after the event.  Commenters on this data, including retired Imperial
    naval officers, were disturbed as this news assured any naval strategist that the
    attack was a planned and coordinated one.  That showed there were a great many
    more resources behind the attack which still appear to be available to
    the conspiracy.
                

    Jewell (A777999-C A Hi In Cp 623 Im G7 V)                            Date: 034 - 1113
    The Admiralty have granted permission to the SuSAG corporation to begin
    assembly of a mercenary fleet for operations in the Gougeste(Jewell) system.
    Formerly controlled by the SuSAG corporation, this independent system was largely
    ignored by the greater forces involved in the Fifth Frontier War.  Still, a Sword
    Worlds cruiser is known to have misjumped into the system and been stranded there.
    Not a threat to Imperial interests in the region, Imperial commands and the
    Imperial government have been concentrating on post-war recovery of
    home and key systems.

    Word has, however, been smuggled out of that system from the "Gougestra Liberation
    Force" suggesting the fight against the Sword Worlders and their advanced
    technology continues.  Responses from the County of Jewell question if
    this "Gougestra Liberation Force" is the same force noted for struggles and
    terroristic attacks against SuSAG authorities prior to the war?  Without a
    better understanding of conditions on the ground and the intentions of all
    combatants in-system, the Imperial position is not yet one of active involvement.

    Still, The Admiralty have permitted SuSAG permission to amass a mercenary force
    in the Jewell system with the intent of cleansing the Gougeste system of remnant
    Sword World forces.  Funding for this force benefits from support offered by
    many of those Imperial nobles whose own fiefs saw horrifying atrocities during
    the war..  Especially as it is reported the Sword Worlders used their advanced
    technology and weapons systems to dominate from the sky, even carrying out orbital
    bombardment to secure submission and tribute.

    As for what that force may face in-system, it is only known that the "Gram"
    class cruiser Hamlebgryl has been rendered unable to make interstellar jumps.
    Her former commanders, in the Gram system, have refused to do more than provide
    written and recorded orders for the crew and marines to stand down.  Beyond
    that, they claim authorities in the Gram system are unwilling to take
    responsibility for persons who have very obviously gone rogue.  Especially when
    their planetary fleets have been secured and mothballed by Imperial occupation
    forces.  Still, it is clear the cruiser has a significant amount of armory still
    operational and it is suggested the secondary systems are in good order as the crew
    of the cruiser prefer to spend their time aboard their ship rather than securing
    a site off-ship during repairs.  It is also unknown if the ship's compliment
    hope to eventually repair the ship's interstellar drives and leave the world.
 

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                           Date: 040 - 1113
    Word was released today of a breakthrough discovery by the SuSAG labs in the
    Rhylanor system in the field of agnathics research.  While no real details
    have yet been released by the corporation about the discovery itself, it was
    released that the team, under noted biochemical and molecular designer
    Doctor Irguuin Pofimge were behind the work.  Further details on the discovery
    are awaited by a market which is now holding its collective breath for interests.
    both biomedical and fashion.
           

    Quar (B532710-B N Po Ni A 401 Im M2 V)                            Date: 021 - 1113
    The Imperial government and Imperial Naval Admiralty have formally declared all
    worlds in the Regina, Jewell and Lanth subsectors to have reverted to their pre-
    war travel classifications.  This news will be celebrated by merchant, Trade,
    Financial and Insurance firms across the sector as it spreads.  Key reductions
    in costs were to be expected in certain shipping and cargo sectors as a result
    of this announcement.  At the same time, the Admiralty do hold fast that there
    is still a good amount of post-war "clean up" to be completed in the Marches.
  

    Dentus (C979500-A 5 Ni 920 Va M2 V)                            Date: 030 - 1113
    Several alleged members of a group of renegade Vargr, who were captured late in
    1111 trying to hijack a merchant ship nearby, have been convicted in the
    Imperial courts there. Following those convictions, the criminal vargr were
    executed for their crimes.  Those following this issue will recall the ship
    attacked was the IMS Diinluaam Miirmumse, and she was lightly damaged in the
    attempt because an Imperial naval patrol was operating nearby and responded.
    Rescuing the IMS Diinluaam Miirmumse was awarded to Lt. Commander Jograger,
    then commanding the patrol cruiser INS Siolkan Taengtret.
                

    Kwai Ching (C503758-A Na Va Ic 320 Na K3 V)                           Date: 014 - 1113
    The Kwai Ching system's highport was raided by a small fleet of unidentified
    starships.  The ships appeared to be operated by experienced crews and were
    supported by mercenary troops.  The starport was systematically plundered
    before the troops and ships fled the system.

    The Kwai Ching system are an independent system, known to sell anything to
    residents of the nearby Singer system that the citizens of that world can
    afford.  the only limits apparent in what those from Kwai Ching might sell
    were weapons equal to or exceeding their own tech level.  Authorities from
    the many independent systems in the regions state there is no evidence
    suggesting the identity or origin of the mysterious force.
        

    Kegina (E869569-3 Green NI 524 F6 V)                           Date: 035 - 1113
    In news from the Rhylanor system, increased shipments of foodstuffs
    and other needed supplies are being moved to the Kegina system.  That
    as structures on that world have started failing under the pressure
    of the forced colonization from Bevey.  This has led to rising in-
    system violence.  These increases are being coordinated by the offices
    of Duke Leonard and by the Imperial Navy and Rhylanor subsector naval
    command even as the Rhylanor Senate has agreed to consider the issue.

    An investigation has also begun into the actions and activities of
    the mercenary unit, "Trimbell's Defenders", who had been hired by
    the Council imposed by Bevey as incidents of public violence increased.
    That unit has since been relocated back to the Bevey system and Imperial
    authorities may well pursue them there to resolve questions about
    their ticket in the Kegina system.
      

===== FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! ======
    Jewell (A777999-C A Hi In Cp 623 Im G7 V                           Date: 035 - 1113
    Reports from the capital of the Jewell subsector say the Imperial Navy have
    learned that forces of the Federation of Arden have landed in the Zircon
    system!  The Zircon system had joined the Federation of Arden back on 261-1112,
    so analysts and experts are uncertain what prompted this action?  Despite the
    lack of explanation, the forces of Arden moved in quickly in a well-planned and
    executed mission which quickly overwhelmed Zircon's defensive forces.  The
    system is now reported to be tightly controlled by Arden and under martial law.

    There has been no comment from the Admiralty or any authorities within the
    Imperial government or any statement from the newly established Embassy for
    the Federation of Arden.  Neither have there been comments or reaction from
    the Zhodani or various Sword and Border Worlds embassies.  Historically, the
    Zircon and Utoland systems were colonized by Arden when that system was the
    center for an Imperial County.  The County then tried to operate under the
    original flag of the "Federation of Arden", once Imperial borders were pushed
    back at the end of the Third Frontier War.

    Experts are cautious in ascribing any motives to this action or any indications
    if this suggests any outlook regarding the Imperium or Zhodani Consulate from
    those in the Arden system.  The quickest assumption to be made is that the
    modern leaders of Arden may well be looking to carve out a micro-empire in a
    space where both Imperial and Zhodani forces may not tread for fear of
    triggering a larger conflict.
     

    Excalibur (B324755-A M 402 Sw M5 V)                           Date: 040 - 1113
    After several uprisings in-system, the Excalibur government collapsed
    suddenly.  After reinforcing the downport facilities, in-system Imperial
    commanders report an inability to protect or account for dirtside military
    bases or weapons caches.  While there have been no actions taken to attack
    the ports or naval bases, Imperial commanders are recalling and recovering
    personnel on-world to secure facilities.

    It appears the Excalibur system is descending into civil war.  The Admirals
    in control of occupation forces in-system have stated they believe the
    warring factions will not intentionally attack Imperial personnel.  This
    belief is based on the level of organization and back-up capabilities
    any such attack would bring down on them.

    As a result, the world has been designated an Amber zone and it is recommended
    Imperial Citizens not attempt to land in-system.
          

    Regina (A788899-C A Ri Cp 703 Im F7 V M6 V M8 D)                            Date: 49 - 1113
    Duke Norris pardoned the mercenary unit "Carstein's Outlaws" for their stalwart
    and loyal service during the Fifth Frontier War.  The unit, which had first
    been raised in 798 by Marquis Semaa of Carsten, had twice been reduced to
    company strength during the Third Frontier War.  After the nearly forgotten
    unit was bought from InstellArms and incorporated into a division for service
    on Efate by then Duke Norris, the unit served with distinction before being
    disbanded and dismissed from Imperial service.  Despite that, Captain Carsten
    rallied a platoon of troops and some salvaged gear, then defied the order,
    fleeing aboard a hired merchant ship to continue fighting.
        

    Frenzie (A200436-A N Ni Va * 110 Im M2 III M3 D)                           Date: 181 - 1113
    News from the Frenzie system regarding the unpopulated Tavonni system stated
    the corporation Caradoc LIC have petitioned Ling Standard Products to extend
    support and loans to buy the development right for the Tavonni system.  As part
    of the deal, Caradoc would become an affiliate company under the LSP corporate
    umbrella.  Caradoc had been started as a two-ship firm working routes in the
    Outrim Void(Egryn subsector, Trojan Reach). This is seen as a move by Caradoc's
    founders, retired Imperial Fleet Admiral Count Leto Khaanraarshuinki
    and retired Imperial Army General Gukushriiken to move their
    operations back inside the borders of the Imperium.
           

As Terin watched the news, Mikah and Zimzod joined him.  Once Fesic was settled back in the ship, he immediately checked on their ton of speculative cargo.  After confirming the cargo was intact, Fesic powered up the cargo sealing system and launched more classes for the rest of his day until he needed some sleep.  Rol checked his formal-wear and made other preparations for his arrival in the Regina system before working on his book and then grabbing sleep.  At a point, Rol also made a meal for everyone still awake.  Zimzod did a workout, some stent-work and gear maintenance until he slept.

By 7pm that evening, everyone in the crew had slept and worked at personal issues by the time the unrefined fuel had been processed.  As everyone manned their positions or relaxed in the lounge, Emkir began the burn out-system while Terin began the serious work on his navigational plot.  This time, there was no question as he targeted the system's mainworld, which was a moon of the gas giant Assiniboia.  nearly four hours later, the ship came to zero vee at the 100d limit and Emkir activated the jump drive, and they left the Dinomn system for Regina.

The Last Leg To Regina

     With his last week before arrival in Regina, Rol planned to work heavily on getting his "book" presentable.  Towards the end of the week, he made sure he had a serviceable preface to append to it so he could provide it to whoever would be examining his war record and possible crimes.  As he did this, Rol also participated in crew activities, such as the zero-g combat training Mikah started up again at Fesic's request.  Mikah enjoyed the chance to help her crew collect bruises.  Outside that class, Fesic devoted time to his cargo studies and started his college classes, as well as devoting some time to his lock pick system.

During the final week's jump, Zimzod took his Executive Officer duties to heart and made the rounds of the crew making sure they had their gear, formal wear and all prepared for arrival in the Regina system.  He and Mikah had not been there since arriving aboard the INS Tamesha Kargaa, after the battle in the Rech system.  Most important, Zimzod made sure everyone was aware they needed civilian clothing rather than expecting to wear military uniforms they no longer had the official rights to wear.  Especially in situations which would be official.  After that was dealt with, Zimzod relaxed and settled into his week in jump.  Over the trip to Regina, Zimzod would relax, clean and work on his gear, take part in the zero-g classes Mikah was gonna throw and increasingly work on his stent after the advances he got from Aali and working with the others.

Once they entered the jump, Terin made sure his wardrobe matched expectations before returning to his classes and stent work.  And where Terin's work load only jumped as he had access to better computer systems, Munarshu's had dropped.  Still needing to step through the actions, tests, bleeds and other work of transferring systems from real-space to jump, the systems were all so well maintained that the process took less time.  That left him and Aali with much more free time than they'd usually ever expect.  Emkir spent his week working much more directly to create the trade data parser he was calling a "Diary".  And by the end of the week, he had the main framework of the application working.

That meant Emkir had to handle the much more user-intensive process of working through the data to normalize and correct it.  So, the application might start working "now" but would come up with a lot of false positives and miss what was not there.  As he worked, Aali relaxed and enjoyed her free time while also doing her stent work.  She also quietly got back to looking at the White Star data from the fob, as it seemed they'd not get back towards the Sonthert system any time soon.  If at all.  Mikah considered making a new batch of vargr juice, but realized she didn't have the ingredients needed.  Because of that, she relaxed and prepared her gear for Regina as she also took time to read.  And Fesic spent the week involved in his college course and cargo management studies.


Any Excuse In A Jump...

     On the morning of the day before they were to emerge from jump, the crew were up for throwing Rol an impromptu party.  For some, it was certainly a "You're screwed, so 'bye!" party.  And for others, it was a "Good luck" party.  But, for everyone, it was an excuse to have a party.  Fesic even decided he'd cook Rol a "really good meal".  Mikah joked that they should get him really drunk, but didn't mean it because she wanted any of his issues to start "After" he left the ship, so things could not splash back on them.  But they did wake everyone up on the second to last day to throw the party.  When Rol woke up that morning, the crew were up to announce this was Rol's day!

As the party wound up, most of the crew were not too concerned with holding back, and Aali, Terin and Fesic really got smashed!  Everyone else, except Rol, at least got a buzz going while Rol nursed his drinks and considered the coming days.  When Rol was asked if he wanted to make a speech, he made the sort of speech the crew could appreciate; "More beer?"  With the cheers, Terin loudly said, "We're gonna miss you Rol!"  Raising his drink in Terin's direction, Rol said, "I have never been on a ship with a more interesting crew."  That got a ragged cheer as the party rolled on, and into the night.


An Invitation Beyond Refusal

     Each of the crew woke the next day in their varied conditions and based on their habits if they set alarms in their staterooms.  Mikah handed out treatments where asked and took the chance to check everyone over as the last day of jump also served as a day of recovery.  As the timeline shortened, people had secured their staterooms and stations and were preparing to take their positions while waiting for the computer to put out its warning.  When it did, Emkir and Fesic manned the flight positions with Terin also on the bridge.  Aali and Munarshu were in engineering while Mikah joined Zimzod and Rol in the lounge.  As the ship emerged from jump, the crew set about confirming arrival details as the sensors came back on line and the ship's computer received the '2pm local time' beacon update.

Early on, the beacons were simply too far out for instant communications with the port or security vessels in the outer-most patrol rings.  Still, Emkir had Fesic send a greeting in-system as he managed the flight transition back to normal space and the engineering spaces went into over-drive.  As expected, the arrival beacons sent the ship advisories instructing which in-bound flight vectors to assume along with comms channels to set systems to and other data answering expected questions.  They also provided the first of what would be a great many advertisements as those who'd paid the highest prices got the first ads in for their CrImps.  Aali commanded Munarshu and the 'droids while Fesic handled decisions on the flight deck.  The rest of the crew could only dress up and relax.

Halfway in from the point where they emerged, the ship received the first direct communications from the port.  Emkir was ordered to adopt a very specific vector in system and was warned to expect the on-coming escort vessels which had been dispatched.  At the same time, Emkir received data allowing him to set a secondary display at his station to show the progress of the on-coming escorts.  Once he had that set up on his board, Emkir was also able to have Fesic bounce the word back to the rest of the crew and set the system schematic to display on all ship terminals not otherwise being used.  So, everyone knew Rol's escorts were coming...

Emkir's instructions wove the ship's flight path through a web of bases and arcologies which the Admiral was certain maintained a good number of system defense positions.  And he was also certain those were keeping a close eye and sensor lock on the California.  Not that anyone expected the authorities to blow the ship out of the sky; or believed the system authorities expected the crew of the California to try anything stupid.  But this crew did have a history.  The instructions specifically directed Emkir to lock onto a beacon, once they'd reached the orbital plane, which would direct them in, to a landing pad in a secured part of the Credo-Down starport.  Those who knew explained to those who did not that this was both the world's main starport and the port most directly next to the capital city of Atora.

These instructions said very clearly, there would be no time wasted from now on.  As they closed, Emkir was told there were messages from certain civilians in-system for members of the California's crew.  With his mind in his work and not on the likely encounters, Emkir missed the obvious as he asked who those messages were for?  When the port advised they were for Dame Eikusdi Piirirshu, the meaning hit home hard.  That meant the messages were from Aali's family, using her public name rather than her personal or private names.  Nothing like being escorted in-system under active weapons lock and the suspicion of the authorities so you can meet your in-laws!  The message relayed to Aali was half pleased welcomes home and half gushing that they were in a suite in Atora city, Regina's capital.  They were waiting to see her and meet her husband.

Rampart Imperial Fighter Especially as they had been escorted in by four Rampart Mark 15 fighters who assumed their vanguard and flanks while they were followed by the Cruiser INS Tamesha Kargaa, accompanied by a fleet carrier!  Once the Tamesha Kargaa had moved in and been identified by Fesic and Emkir, Mikah had asked for comms with her captain.  As that was granted and the image of Commander Gadagush appeared on the screen, Mikah relaxed just a bit.  While the look on the Commander's face was hard and unsurprised Mikah's crew had found yet another way to stir up trouble, Mikah knew this officer could be trusted and was not stupid.

The Commander offered the greetings in the name of the Arch Duke and the Duchess Designate, as well as the Duchy.  Mikah thanked her and offered to dock with the cruiser and hand Rol over, if that was desired?  Commander Gadagush simply asked that they follow all instructions given.  When Mikah accepted that, Commander Gadagush asked if there was anything the Kargaa could provide the California while they continued in system?  Mikah said there was not, and thanked her for her offer as they ended the communication and continued in-system.  Now, almost two hours later, the cruiser and carrier had taken overwatch positions as the California prepared for re-entry and landing before what would certainly be an interesting visit.

After just over an hour of re-entry, aero-stabilization and deceleration, the ship settled down on their designated patch of tarmac to quickly be surrounded by formations of armored troops in the duchy's colors.  That was followed by instructions that the Arch Duke's seneschal would be happy to meet with the crew of the Hotel California at their earliest convenience.  No one on the ship was under any illusions that meant they did not have to get off the ship Right Fucking Now and get moving before someone would can-open the ship to come get them.  To punctuate that fact, they were also told there was a vehicle moving into position to transport them and a reception team had 'just stepped up to their air-lock' to assist them.  Even as Emkir and Fesic were still securing and shutting down the ship and Aali and Munarshu bleeding power from systems and shutting down and transferring power to systems for port-side operations.

Mikah joked, "Well, it's not convenient right now." and Rol grimly said he thought it may have "just become convenient."  After they broke light-speed limits settling the ship and making sure they were as pretty as they were gonna get, the entire crew stepped out of the air-lock into something that could just slightly "not" be called 'In Custody'.  From there, the crew were escorted to the waiting transport and settled into the spartan cabin as the vehicle got moving.  During the ride, the seats were comfortable and the windows tinted so they had the space and privacy to try and relax.  That, as they rode into the central government cluster of Atora, capital of the Regina Duchy.

Unit Patch 4518th Once they were in the right neighborhood, the vehicle moved underground, entering an official vehicle lot through a credentials-only entry where sensors had ID'd them as they moved.  When the vehicle stopped and they disembarked, officers of the Duchy guard stepped up to escort them.  And no one could ignore the shoulder patches of the famous 4518th Lift Infantry Regiment.  The troopers, in duty uniforms and bearing side arms, escorted the crew into the building proper and in to what looked like a conference room.

Once delivered to the conference room, they were told to wait and left to their own thoughts for the next fifteen to twenty minutes.  That wait ended as Mr. Branj Dilgaadin and his team arrived and the door was closed behind them.  The team arrived in proper business attire and carrying personal computer systems and none of them appeared pleased to be there.  After the team arrived and everyone was seated, Mr. Dilgaadin spared Mikah and those he knew with a glare that slid past those he'd not met before.  Finally, the glare settled on Rol.

After a sigh which might have been frustration, Mr. Dilgaadin said to Rol, "I have greetings for you from the Jesedipere delegation."  No one made the mistake of assuming those were at all friendly.  Then, to the surprise of everyone in the room, he continued, "I have greetings for you from the Stepozhevac, who have a delegation in-system."  The last was said without any indication he was impressed with their presence, but that meant he was less impressed with Rol because he'd caused them to travel to Regina.  Still, this confused Rol as he'd learned about the Stepozhevaci and the past of part of his crew but had no idea why they'd be here because of his actions?  Still, the Seneschal was not finished so Rol kept his expression firm and listened.

"I have greetings and welcoming messages for you from the delegation from the Heya system, who have also arrived."  This, at least, made Rol a bit happier as he'd earned his Starburst for Extreme Heroism in that system and earned the thanks and respect of their leaders.  Finally, Mr. Dilgaadin said, "And I would like to deliver Sir Jeremy Lewis' compliments."  This surprised the entire crew and Rol was so surprised he could not stop from asking, "Really?" in the sort of muted and uncertain tone that could be 'I'm interested' or 'Target acquired'.  Rol could tell from his expression that the words left a really bad taste in Mr. Dilgaadin's mouth.  After the opening comments, Rol was told there were many accusations but, as yet, no formal charges.  There were also no promises there would not be formal charges.

Mr. Dilgaadin told them all the rumors on the street were many, but those rumors also flowed in both directions.  As a result, Rol and the entire crew were told to consider themselves under the protection of the Duchy.  Rol was told that, at the very least, he would be expected to be present to testify in the case against Sir Jeremy.  There was a pause before Mr. Dilgaadin dropped the other shoe, telling Rol Sir Jeremy wanted a private meeting with him!  That last came out in an air of exasperation which suggested Sir Jeremy had been told it would not happen enough times the Knight had finally won a promise the request would at least be made.  None of the expressions in the room suggested anyone expected Rol to meet the man.

With a tone of somewhat open contempt, Mr. Dilgaadin explained Sir Jeremy was under house arrest per his station in the Imperium.  He repeated that there were significant charges against Sir Jeremy for his actions in publishing his book and the statements therein.  Beyond that, Mr. Dilgaadin expected that Rol would have enough free time in the coming days to meet with his people and go over the issues to discuss his testimony.  Rol was also told that meeting would also be attended by senior officers of the Imperial Navy in-system.  So, 'Brass and Diplomatic asses' all around.  Rol was reminded those conversations would not just cover what Sir Jeremy had written, but include his own public statements as well as the evidence brought in by the Jesedipere delegation.

Mr. Dilgaadin said he expected the Jesedipere data to be "interesting reading" once it was submitted, and Rol admitted he'd like to see it himself.  The Seneschal nodded and said, "I'm sure you would."  In the pause created by that moment, Rol said, "As always, I am at the disposal of the Duchy." and, for the first time, Rol saw what might have been a wolfish grin on the Seneschal's face as he said, "Disposal not being the operative word."  With that, Mr. Dilgaadin turned to Mikah saying, "Your Ladyship, congratulations on your rise in station." because he'd not seen Mikah since she was made a Lady of the Court.  After she thanked him, the seneschal said he needed to warn her there had been a number of complaints raised in the Rhylanor system which the Arch Duke and his staff were dealing with.

As he spoke, Mikah realized why the Stepozhevaci were in system.  As Mikah nodded, Mr. Dilgaadin said he expected some of the charges, which have been lodged against her ship and crew, would entertain them.  When Mikah said, "We're pretty comfortable with that", Dilgaadin's smile again turned feral as he said, "And I imagine resolving some of those charges will entertain some of us."  As that sank in, the seneschal said, "You'll be happy to know," as his gaze again swept them all, "that we've retained legal counsel for everyone, in such as it will be needed.  And those expenses will be borne by the Duchy."

After Mikah thanked him, Mr. Dilgaadin said, "Just remember that everything you do here and every action you take here, will reflect on his Grace, the Arch Duke, the confidence he's placed in you and the responsibilities he'd raised you to.  And how all of that reflects on his trust in you, so, don't fuck up."  Mikah was not sure if she was more disturbed about the charges or that Branj needed to state the obvious about them.  Mr. Dilgaadin then looked at Emkir and Aali and then at Aali before saying, "Lady knight, you have exemplified the ambitions of our entire system and now you've come home."

Mr. Dilgaadin continued, "We understand your parents are here and we'd like to help with your reunion.  We would also like to make sure that reunion is suitably public, to be sure the public get to see the rewards of service."  Once he'd made it suitably clear they were paying for her parent's visit in order to turn the situation into a public service ad, he said, "Welcome home." with a smile before turning to Emkir.  With an even broader smile, Mr. Dilgaadin told Emkir, "Congratulations!  You married above your station!" and got a laugh from everyone except the surprised Aali and 'for once speechless' Emkir.  As the Seneschal and his team prepared to leave, Emkir finally caught himself and responded, "No one knows that better than myself."

More Details Before Wrapping Up

     As the meeting moved towards an end, Mr. Dilgaadin told them he'd set up a meeting for them next with the current Regent to the Duchy.  When that got everyone's attention, he told them that was Countess Josephine of Efate.  As he said that she was in-system, some in the crew realized what that meant because the Efate system was still recovering from heavy damage and atrocities committed there during the war.  And the Countess was known to work for the rights of all, often against the powerful.  What that meant for Rol if he was charged was anyone's guess?  That she had given her people direct control of efforts on Efate spoke volumes if Rol was charged or not.  Then Mr. Dilgaadin checked his tablet computer and dropped another bomb.

As they considered meeting with Countess Josephine, he told them, "We expect the Duchess Designate to arrive in-system in two weeks' time.  Then, there will be a number of functions and events surrounding her arrival, regardless how this plays out.  So, for the time being, we leave you in the personal care of Bondal a'Plena, Duke Vilis, who has recently arrived in-system."  That was the first really good news Mikah and Zimzod had heard, because they knew he was an ally and liked them.  Mikah even smiled as she said, "Cool!  We're old friends."  Mr. Dilgaadin gave that a smile as if to say, 'Be that as it may'.  In the pause of that smile, Munarshu hopefully asked, "So, we can leave Rol here and we can go?"

Mr. Dilgaadin gave him a withering stare as he asked if Sir Munarshu had missed the part where they'd been told there were complaints lodged against the ship and its crew?  Or missed the real possibility those complaints could lead to charges?  The way he used Munarshu's title made it clear he was willing to question if Duke Luis had really done the correct thing elevating Munarshu, local as that knighthood was.  Emkir didn't miss a beat after the Seneschal finished his comment, saying Mr. Dilgaadin didn't have to worry as they'd stick Munarshu in a vent somewhere.  A comment the Seneschal didn't understand and didn't want to, even as it got laughs he did not want explained.  Dilgaadin just nodded to one of the members of his team, who then turned to Zimzod.

That staffer said, "Sir Zimzod, housing for your fiefdom has been set up."  As he said that, the man sent a note to Zimzod's Ident which would not only guide him to the suite, but let his Ident act as a key for entry.  The staffer then asked who would be staying with Sir Zimzod, so they could update the expectations of the suite's staff?  Zimzod asked how many bedrooms the suite had and was told there were four.  Talking with Mikah, he decided he and Mikah would share the master bedroom and Rol, Fesic, Terin and Munarshu would split the other three, which begged who would double up?

When there was no obvious answer to who would share, Mikah decided to make it easy and said, "The two employees will share."  That appeared to mean 'Munarshu and Fesic', as they were employees and Terin was an indentured servant while Rol was a share owner.  So Terin and Rol got their own rooms in a moment of bizarre comedy while the four men simply shook their heads in confusion.  As Emkir and Aali started to consider their needs, a member of Mr. Dilgaadin's team stepped forward and presented them with a packet of information for "their suite".  As they had been told, the Duchy was taking care of them, and had secured the suite directly across the hall from that of Aali's parents.

As Emkir considered exactly how close Aali's parents would be, and how thin walls could be, he decided that would be an interesting situation indeed.  And now that housing had been taken care of, the Duchy provided recovery and transport of all the crew's appropriate gear from the ship.  Which did not include weapons and armor except for a designated and proper side-arm.  When Emkir consulted Aali, she recommended he wear his cutlass.  Aali selected her laser sword for herself.  As others were considering that question, Rol asked Mr. Dilgaadin for a moment in private?  he told Rol they could speak after the rest of their business was done.

When Munarshu was asked, he selected to ask for the snub pistol he'd named, "The Duke" after being gifted it in Duke Luis' court on Lunion.  Still, as was his custom, he only asked for tranq rounds.  Terin also chose one of the polished gift weapons Duke Luis had given him, specifying the most fancy of the two gauss pistols.  Mikah selected her laser pistol, expecting at least some of those who saw it to make the mistake of thinking it useless without the obvious backpack.  While Fesic chose not to have any weapons retrieved for him, Rol also asked for the gauss pistol Duke Luis gave him.  Zimzod had them bring him his vibro-cutlass.

After those decisions were made, most of the crew were escorted off to their meeting with Countess Josephine while Rol was allowed to hang back and would catch up.  Not necessarily waiting to be alone with the seneschal and his team, Rol stepped up and raised the tablet computer he'd brought with him.  As he did this, he said, "I have a project I have been working on and I would like to present it as an alternative, if possible, for the Duke's attention."  Since Rol's words made no sense without further information, Mr. Dilgaadin asked, "An alternative to what?"  He also did not appear pleased to have to ask the question or that Rol's statement made no sense.

Rather than give anything like a reasonable explanation, Rol continued to say, "I shouldn't say 'alternative' but an additional plan of action."  Taking a breath for stability, Mr. Dilgaadin then asked, "With regard to what?" in a firm tone that demanded an actual explanation.  Rol continued, "With regard to the case pursued against me..." Mr. Dilgaadin cut Rol off, saying, "Currently, no charges have been filed against you."  As Rol tried to say, "I understand", Mr. Dilgaadin continued, "Perhaps you should speak in actualities rather than potentialities."  Nodding, Rol said, "I have been compiling my own account, in book form", forcing Dilgaadin to ask, "Of?" because it seemed Rol was congenitally unable to speak in fully described concepts.

Rol answered, "Of the events on Jesedipere and generally through the war."  Finally having a complete understanding of what Rol had to say, the Seneschal accepted, "OK.  So, you would like to provide me with further documentation, from your point of view, of the points in contention?"  Rol nodded and said that was correct but added that he was interested in possibly publishing the work publicly.  Mr. Dilgaadin told Rol publication was between himself and any firms he chose to work with after the legal issues had been dealt with.  After Rol thanked Mr. Dilgaadin, the seneschal had Rol bump a copy of his data to the computer of one of his staffers before they moved him along to meet the rest of the crew and the Countess.

Meeting The First Waves

     In the next conference room, the crew first waited for Rol to re-join them and then for the Countess to arrive, with or without aides.  As Rol joined them, Munarshu blurted out in surprise, "You're still alive!"  Terin quipped, "And with his nutz", getting a laugh from the group.  Still focused on Rol, Munarshu asked, "And?  And?"  Rol just said, "I was simply asking for a peer review of a document I've been generating" and Mikah answered that, saying "You have no Peers."  Turning to Mikah, Rol said, "Which is why I'm still waiting for it."  Since Rol was obviously in 'make as little sense as possible' mode, that was allowed to drop as they settled themselves and, soon enough, the Countess arrived.

She was an older frail-looking woman who would turn out to be quite sturdy once anyone interacted with her.  She did not seem to move with the agility of an admittedly younger person, but one could see the fire of a stalwart personality burning in her eyes.  As for charm, her current 'main tactic' was more blunt.  Something which may have come with age and authority.  She stood six foot, ten, and appeared a bit more thin than she might have in her younger days.  Her sharp gold eyes bracketed a narrow nose framed by her greying blonde hair and sallow complexion.  And, in this instance, her no-nonsense facial expression. Looking like someone's very "dangerous to cross" grandmother to start, the level of finery she wore sewn into her gown said, "This is a person of power and wealth".

Her appearance was only added to by the entourage moving with her, including two armed bodyguards and a 'walking Herald', who announced her as "The Regent of the Regina Duchy, Countess Josephine of Efate" as they arrived.  At the moment, the Countess looked like her homeworld likely felt as the crew could see the evidence of a stressful life written across her face.  As she was introduced, the Countess looked down her nose at each of them with an expression suggesting complete disapproval.  As they waited, the Countess said, "I've gone over Norris' notes regarding your crew, and you, Sir Knight, and I found the reading rather interesting.  I look forward to the fact that you may, however this pans out, improve the security of the Spinward Marches and the Duchy.  I hope you're up to that, and even if you're not, I'll be pleased if it works out that way."

The Countess continued, "Limited funds have been made available by the Duchy for your team's daily operations.  And we understand that housing has already been taken care of.  So we simply hope you can help resolve these issues without things becoming worse for the Imperium and its people."  Mikah thanked the Countess and said they'd do their best.  With a nod from the Countess as she accepted that and left, the crew were told by a seneschalate worker that they were now free to go to their quarters and relax.  Still, some of the crew were concerned as Terin asked, "What the fuck was that?"  Mikah just said not to worry about it and everyone agreed as Munarshu moaned, "They're gonna send us someplace to die, aren't they?"

Over the next few hours, as those headed to Zimzod's Fief moved in and settled down while the duchy's workers recovered their gear, Aali and Emkir were delivered to a penthouse suite looking out over Atora.  While the penthouse floor had eight total suites, each suite had its own butler and staff allotment, and the couple were introduced to their people.  Once the introductions were done and before he could do more than sit and start to relax, their butler started heating up some tea while the chime sounded to let them know they had visitors.  Waiting on the butler to handle the door too, they rose as the man announced Aali's family.

As they entered, Emkir recognized people he'd seen in Aali's image collection from home.  Her mother and father were followed by the youngest of Aali's older sisters and her brother.  The sister wore the Imperial uniform of a Lieutenant Commander (O-4) in the Regina Planetary Navy and her face was a mask of anger.  Her brother wore the uniform of the Imperial Army and the rank of Colonel.  As Aali rushed over and started hugging her mother and father, Emkir assumed parade rest and waited until it felt right to step in.  As Aali went to hug her sister, she had to settle for a 'stare and handshake' instead.  Her brother joined in on the hugs.  Aali learned her two other sisters were out of the system currently.

Stepping up formally, Emkir greeted Aali's parents and said, "Although we have not met before, I hope to be worthy of your trust if nothing more."  In the sudden pause before anyone else could act, Aali's sister said, "So.  That's the celebrity murderer?" with the cold gaze of appraisal sweeping Emkir top to bottom.  Aali and Emkir would be told later the family had heard of Emkir's father as well as their news-making adventures.  As quickly as the gaze moved, the sister turned away, appearing to be exploring the suite.  Aali turned to glare at her sister and said, "You should learn to behave better" and her sister answered, "Not really" before leaving the suite.  As she left, Emkir said to her back, "I would not dishonor my wife by allowing such affront to take place without answering it."  Sadly, his response simply showed how impotent Emkir was under the circumstances and would only beg why he bothered at all?

After the briefest of pauses before everyone else moved on, the couple and family sat down to talk about the news, vids and images they'd seen as the crew cut a blaze across the sector.  As they did, Emkir received his cup of tea from the butler and asked if anyone else wanted a drink?  As tea was served, Aali's mother reached into her pocketbook and pulled out what turned out to be a wrapped handful of feesle sticks.  As soon as she did, Aali let out a squeal of delight because her stock of the snacks had run out shortly after she signed on the Hotel California.  Once everyone was settled and they'd covered Aali's adventures, the family spent the evening getting to know Emkir.  Of course, things started with all the positive news and eventually moved into the area of the rumors and negative news they'd heard.

One bit that was eventually covered was that Aali's sister apparently considered the crew to be traitors, who had betrayed the Arch Duke!  Both Emkir and Aali were blindsided by that and, when Emkir asked why, they could not say but admitted they were not part of the briefings the naval officers of Regina were getting.  Disturbingly, the confession was made in a tone which suggested the family believed there "could" be something to the attitude.  That led to a discussion of the warship her sister served on and the fact that whatever had been learned had happened within the last months.  At the same time, Aali's parents were certain it would all come out in the wash and her brother admitted he'd heard nothing from his chain of command.  Then again, he'd just arrived in the system, en route to another assignment.

At Zimzod's place, Mikah laid down the law and said no one was to leave the suite until they figured out what was going on?  As they'd settled in, Fesic had gotten a laugh when he pointed out a vent cap in the room they'd share and said, "You're sleeping in there".  Terin accepted Mikah's orders and sat to watch vids as he turned on the suite's main display unit in the living room.  Much to everyone's disgust, a lot of the programming on the main channels had been pre-empted with special coverage of the arrival of Sir Rol Kaihvos in-system.  And despite the care that had been taken by the seneschalate, there was various footage connected to the event.  Some shots showed the Hotel California on her landing pad and others showed a transport with tinted windows which was said to have been transporting Sir Rol and his crew at the time it was shot.

The one thing which did come out of the coverage, as they watched, was the suggestion that Mikah, Zimzod, the late Sir Brian and their previous crew had apparently tried to bring down Duke Norris!  This was claimed to be related to the last time the crew had been in-system, arriving aboard the INS Tamesha Kargaa and leaving aboard the IMS Pilot Error, now the IMS Hotel California.  Sadly, there were no real details of the accusations, but there was apparently enough behind the charges to create a situation of concern in-system now that Mikah, Zimzod and their crew had returned.  Rol's own special issues were yet another mixture of concerns, like over-mixing sugar and caffeine in a single serving.

Angry about the charges, and certain she'd get an 'immediate answer' somehow, Mikah called the seneschal's office to ask about the charges more directly.  Once she identified herself, Mikah demanded, "What is with this rumor and what are you doing to put it to rest?" and was told she and Sir Zimzod would be briefed on it in the coming meetings but there was nothing she could be told at the moment.  Annoyed but unable to do anything about it, Mikah said "Alright" and ended the call.  As things continued in Zimzod's suite, the rumors came up in Aali and Emkir's suite though they never turned on the news.  Still, Aali and Emkir did talk up those positive adventures they'd been through, keeping away from things that were 'life or death' to keep it positive for her family.

Still, Munarshu's mind started spinning conspiracy theories and Mikah finally gave him permission to investigate on the suite's computers to keep him from doing something more stupid.  As he planned to investigate until 10pm, Terin checked out the suite's gaming system.  Finding the system well stocked for electronic games in general and in adult titles, he ignored the adult section and grabbed a first-person shooter to play.  Mikah and Zimzod decided to grab an early night's sleep and Rol followed their example.  As Munarshu wrapped up his research, he found a metric butt-load of random data and rumors.  What he did find was some significant evidence that Mikah and Zimzod did attempt to sneak into the Regina system for some reason with the late Sir Brian and their crew at the time.

That had led to the loss of the ship they were aboard, the ISS Dawnstar Horizon.  Sadly, none of the rumors came at all close to what Munarshu knew to be true.  Even more sadly, it seemed to have led to rumors the crew of the Dawnstar Horizon had planned to set up a hoax which would grow into a scandal that could depose then Duke Norris and the entire Aledon Family.  Checking the dates on this, Munarshu saw it had happened just after May of 1112, which also fit in with what he knew.  Saving his notes, Munarshu decided he'd let Mikah know what he'd found the next morning.


The Start Of A Very Interesting Day

     As usual, Munarshu had set his clock early, but still allowed himself to sleep until 6 am.  Unfortunately for Fesic, that was not when he planned to wake up. Still, Munarshu had not woken earlier so Fesic kept his mouth shut as Munarshu's alarm ruined his plans.  In his room, Terin woke up on his own and suffered a moment's confusion at his surroundings before he remembered where he was.  As he relaxed in the real bed, Terin joked to himself, "I could get used to this ship."  Leaving his room, Terin met Munarshu and Fesic leaving theirs as the butler began making tea.  as the three sat with their drinks, Munarshu began to tell Fesic and Terin what he'd found during his research.  He edited that because Munarshu knew Fesic knew a lot less than he and Terin did.

In the living area, the butler told the three crewmen there was a menu from which they could request meals as Mikah was waking up in the bedroom she shared with Zimzod.  As they ordered their meals and talked, Mikah eventually joined them.  Mikah thanked the butler as he handed her a cup of tea while she seated herself at the table.  He then presented her with a menu for breakfast.  Once she was seated, Munarshu dove in, and started explaining what he'd found the night before.  Mikah agreed that the timeframe he'd found matched the last time she and Zimzod had been in-system, but said she didn't know how those events got turned into this rumor?

As they talked around what they both actually knew, Munarshu did an excellent job of being clueless.  And for her part, Mikah enjoyed playing the card of mysteries.  Wanting Munarshu to keep researching, because he was finally being of some actual use, Mikah told him to keep searching when he could and began feeding him names he already knew, Like Kyle van Ryddoth.  In truth, Mikah not only hoped Munarshu would find new information, but hoped he'd find Kyle van Ryddoth was on Regina.  So much so, that Mikah suggested Munarshu could get a great reward if he found Ryddoth in-system.  Concerned something really dangerous may have grown out of events the last time Mikah and Zimzod visited Regina, Terin also joined into the search while they waited and eventually ate breakfast.

They ate while Emkir woke up next to Aali.  She was still asleep so he decided to ruin her sleep by sealing his lips on hers and kissing her firmly.  Emkir then set about fully waking his wife up in the manner he hoped she'd become accustomed to, which may have been a bit optimistic given the political winds of the moment.  Still, they got into their morning "workout" as Zimzod woke in his suite to find himself alone.  Staggering out to breakfast, he saw Mikah and asked, "Where'd you go" in a tone which suggested he had plans that morning to share with Mikah.  As Mikah gestured to the table she sat at, she said, "Here".  Seeing the others eating, Zimzod asked, "Where's my breakfast?" and Terin raised a menu saying, "It's right here on this paper." as the others just laughed.

Confused by Terin's answer, Zimzod stopped and checked out the "paper", seeing it was a menu!  Zimzod sat and received a cup of tea from the butler while Terin reviewed the search hits he'd gotten as he'd let the search run and eaten.  What he saw was that they were all "news-related" and connected back to the events of Mikah's earlier visit in one way or another.  Grimly, Munarshu complained that he would need access to sources not generally available to track van Ryddoth down.  Of course, he complained to the air around the table because he knew no one there could help him with that.  When he verbally extended his objective to finding Ryddoth wherever he was, Mikah corrected that she only cared about if he was on world.  Zimzod was sure he'd be happy if they also found Ryddoth in-system but not on world, because he'd be in a ship and easier to kill.

Terin looked through the data and began to realize that the last published trail of van Ryddoth was a commission into the Vargr space of the Gvurrdon subsector.  And that matched up with what Mikah and Zimzod knew of Ryddoth.  Since he'd disappeared into that chaos, there was no chance in his mind that they'd find the man.  Munarshu simply droned, "Oh, ye of little faith" and asked Mikah for permission to go to one of Atora city's research libraries.  When she asked why, Munarshu cryptically said that was, "where they stored eyes at."  Mikah had no idea what the nitwit was suddenly onto as Terin sniped, "Sure!  They just rip them out of random people and throw them on a shelf.  It was Zimzod who asked, "Eyes as in 'eyewitnesses', as in reported information?" and Munarshu said "Yes."

Terin continued to say he thought chasing after Ryddoth's data trail was a fool's errand.  Shrugging that off, Munarshu asked again for permission and Mikah said no.  Not sure what was going on, Mikah didn't want any of the crew leaving the suite unless they were specifically going somewhere they had to be or visiting someone they knew or felt was safe.  Mikah was certain there would now be press to deal with and she didn't want anyone accidentally slipping and giving anything to the media.  When she said so, Zimzod said, "Even if they only show their good side" and Mikah doubled down, "Especially if they show their good side!"

Not too far away, in another tower, Emkir and Aali were awake and had eaten breakfast.  As they ate, most of Aali's family in-system came to join them.  As they ate and chatted, Aali's parents asked what their plans were in system, other than the obvious.  Taking that one before Aali could, Emkir rather formally said, "We are at the service of the Duchy.  We were recalled to deliver Rol and more than that, we don't know.  So, we're waiting on orders from the duchy."  In a friendlier tone, Emkir added that they hoped to have the free time to play tourists but, again, said they were 'on call'.  Once Emkir had said his piece, they asked the couple if they'd like to 'see the sites', because this was their big trip into Atora and Emkir had apparently not gotten to see much the last time he was in-system.

And that was the closest they'd come to mentioning any of the current news items that morning.  Since Emkir had also never been to the Regina system during his service, except to pass through, he and Aali were happy to say, "Let's go!"  Emkir did quietly step into the fresher to call Mikah while out of sight and make sure they could be spared?  When he did, Mikah told Emkir all about the rumored accusations and the situation they'd found themselves in.  As Emkir realized that was what the in-laws had alluded to but backed off from, Mikah emphatically told him to make sure no one talked to the media.  So, Emkir's new motive was to keep Aali's family away from any news sources at all as they had family fun.

After Emkir ended the call, he returned to the family hoping to quietly update Aali on the situation and find quiet ways to guide the group away from anything that suggested "media".  Following that, the group went out on what turned out to be a "jump on - jump off" vehicle tour of the city which fit into the funds Aali's parents had to show their world off with.  Realizing this, and lending a hand as they could to put more of a shine on the day, Aali and Emkir ended up paying the costs.  Tour bonuses were that the vehicles were grav-busses, so they would periodically "pop up" to view a site or give a panoramic view when it suited the situation.  Also, the tour allowed them to get off the bus and visit places.  They even stopped by one of the side window serving spaces for "Superior Comestibles", a very-well advertised and respected restaurant in Credo-Down Startown.

The tour also passed by, but did not visit, special landmarks like Helllewhite's Rare Books and Curiosities, and the many parks and decorative spaces in Atora and limited sections of Credo.  From a distance, they saw the spires of the famous "The Regina Center for Research", which collected and did secondary and advanced research on all the work done in most of the region's universities and laboratories.  While not a University, the RCfR did provide certificates of education which were able to add another zero to the right side of any paycheck.  'Must visits' were the public spaces near the Marquis' Palace, a Sylean-style structure built in the 500's, well before Marquis Caranda Aledon of Regina was created the first Duke of Regina.  Of course, the location had its negative side as protesters supporting the so-called Payan Network cried out their complaints.

The tour also zipped through spaces in the neighborhood of the University of Regina and stops were made for Feesel sticks, Groundberrys, whiffelberries, Jara Cigurkade(a popular soft drink), oranges and cigurks.  Also, at points where surface views were getting thin, the tour guides would direct tourists to look into the skies, to see the vast General Shipyards construction arcologies where, rumor had it, a brand-new class of warship was being built for the Imperial Navy.  Those looking at the skies could also see the many other major arcologies like the Imperial naval high-base, where a huge fleet of "fast response" ships would be first to cast off in the event of another invasion.  Many of those ships were new, replacements from elsewhere or under continuing repairs thanks to losses in the Fifth Frontier War.

Also, because of the war, there were many locations where there were memorials, including "Memorial point".  That was a natural rise in a nature reserve south of Atora and Credo where visitors could climb to the peak of a moderately tall hill and visit the memorial while having a very clear view of the military bases in the skies above.  The one disappointment for all was that they could not see any of Regina's floating cities along the horizons.  Ultimately, at the end of the day, the tours, visits to specific sites and meals for six set Aali and Emkir back about Cr 1,200.  And while everyone did enjoy the tour and they did find moments to talk and get to know each other, Emkir became more and more concerned.  This was because Emkir had noticed Aali's father had started becoming more and more reserved after they'd had lunch.  And Emkir had no chance to ask those questions not asked in public.

Morning Plans And Surprises

     As Zimzod ate breakfast and Mikah dealt with the call from Emkir, the group was relaxing for the moment.  When Mikah got done with Emkir, Zimzod asked, "What's up?" and Mikah said, "Nothing."  She continued, "We're here and waiting for the Seneschal to call or for the Duke of Vilis to arrive."  Mikah then told them what Emkir and Aali were up to.  Seeing what Terin and Munarshu were doing, Zimzod asked what they'd found and Munarshu answered, "Not much."  Terin added to that with a bit of verbal diarrhea about how impossible it would be to find Kyle van Ryddoth.  He was cut off by Munarshu, who'd heard it all before and did not need a replay as he said, "Nothing is impossible.  That just makes it a little more difficult", which earned him eye rolls around the table. But, Mikah didn't mind so long as it kept the engineer out of trouble.

Of course, that didn't stop Terin from saying, "Ok!  We'll stop back in here in a year or two and see how you're doing."  And that got him a good number of laughs.  Fixing Munarshu with a smile, Zimzod joked, "I like your optimism!  Let's step out on the balcony and discuss it."  The implication being that Zimzod wanted to see how difficult Munarshu would find it to learn to fly?  Turning back to Mikah, Zimzod asked, "So?  What do we think?" and Mikah said, "I don't know.  We just need to stay away from the media."  Eventually, as they relaxed away the morning, Rol woke up and joined them.

As he greeted the others, Mikah looked at Rol and said, "Wow!  You don't have to cook and you're sleeping in?" with a plaintive tone.  After the laughs that got, Rol sat down and asked, "What's up?" as he looked around.  With a huge smile on his face, Zimzod answered, "We're working for a living." and let a pause go before continuing, "Try it."  As Zimzod got his laughs, Rol tried to get into the competition by answering, "Why?  I do that every day.  I wanna do something different.  I think I'll try loafing.  I've never done that before."  Sadly, the joke went down like a wingless, flaming aerofighter.  Munarshu even managed to get some good laughs as he recommended Rol try to find a nice vent to relax in.

Nearing 10am, the comms in the suite began to buzz and Mikah answered it.  As she did, Mikah found herself talking to a seneschalate officer representing the Duke of Vilis.  Very pleased, Mikah greeted the officer, who said, "His Grace the Duke would like to meet with yourself and Zimzod for lunch."  Mikah answered, "Oh, that would be awesome!" because Duke a'Plena had been the man to raise the former crew of the IMS Singing Star to the Chivalry for their actions on his behalf.  When they told her they had the details, Mikah said they could send the data to their suite computer.  The rest of the morning was simply a chance to relax until Mikah and Zimzod had to get ready and go out to meet the Duke.

After they dressed, Mikah impressed on the four men they were leaving behind that she and Zimzod were leaving and the others should not create any problems.  When she said, "I need all four of you to be adults and don't leave the suite", Fesic goofy talked, "Aww, do we have to??" and Terin admitted it would be difficult.  Zimzod quipped about watching how they talked back to someone who was very good with sedatives.  Despite that, they were all smiling and enjoying the joke.  As she'd dressed, Mikah had worn her tea-length lavender dress because she liked the idea of the sparklies flashing if anyone was taking pictures.  She also holstered her laser pistol for the surprise and shock value for those who realized what she had.  Zimzod wore his cranberry-colored suit and belted on his vibro-cutlass.  As they'd dressed, they told the butler they needed a vehicle and, once dressed, went down to the lobby to catch their ride.

Staying behind, the four men were in shipsuits, and Munarshu had holstered his snub pistol, loaded with tranq rounds.  Also, Munarshu's shipsuit was made of ballistic cloth because those were the only shipsuits he had.  But he also wore executive armor under that.  As the four men relaxed after Mikah and Zimzod left, the world around them seemed to suddenly explode!  Something had smashed through the suite's balcony, crashing through the kitchen and dining area and into the living room!  Fesic and Terin were both closest to the impact and both were thrown and knocked down while Munarshu was hit by the wave of debris.  As it came to a halt, Rol could just make out the object was an enclosed air/raft of some kind.

Realizing this could be some form of attack, Rol began to move for his bedroom to get his weapon.  With the same idea, Terin cleared himself off as he pushed up and started a desperate attempt to fight through the wreckage to get to his weapon too.  Fesic found himself partially pinned in the wreckage and started trying to dig himself out.  So 'what happened' was taking a back seat for him, as he was dealing with his immediate situation.  Munarshu rose and, seeing something move in the raft's cabin, drew his snub pistol as he saw what looked like a figure rise inside the wreck.  As he thought he could see the figure raise an arm like it held a weapon, Munarshu fire as he heard the report of a weapon!

Even in the debris, everyone heard the report of weapons fire as the first shot missed Munarshu and he returned fire and also missed.  Down on the ground floor level, Mikah and Zimzod were just stepping out of the lobby when a small rain of debris came crashing down around them!  Looking up, both realized something significant had happened and Mikah reached for her comms.  After getting no answer, Mikah ordered, "Back upstairs!" even as she and Zimzod turned and sprinted for the tower's stairs, because she expected the elevators to be locked due to the alarms.  As they moved, they could hear the building's emergency alarms beginning to wail.

In the suite, Munarshu saw his fired round bounce off the dented and broken front carapace of the grav-car.  As he steadied himself and details like the beige color of the shooter's top started to register, Munarshu saw the forward windshield of the vehicle was completely gone, so he wanted a torso shot and he hoped the shooter was unarmored.  Munarshu couldn't tell if his hit mattered, as the shooter fired another round and then seemed to duck or drop.  And the second shot fired by the attacker seemed to be aimed at Terin, hitting the debris near the navigator as he clawed at the debris to get into his room and get at his weapon.  This suggested to Munarshu that the shooter knew he was firing tranq rounds and had written him off.

Since he'd seen the shooter get hit in the chest and knock his dart away before dropping, Munarshu worried the attacker could well have just ducked for cover.  For a few seconds panic, Munarshu worried, "Shit!  Another 'droid!"  But that made no sense as an android would have ignored the dart rather than sweeping it away.  As the battle formed around them, Rol had reached the passage to the rooms and was working at the debris Terin had almost cleared while Fesic had heard shots and was fighting to clear himself because the debris had kept him from seeing any of the action.  All Fesic knew was that his left leg hurt a bit, he was pinned and he'd heard gunshots.

Finally, with Rol's help, Terin and Rol got to the rooms and each raced to grab their weapons and return to the battle.  Terin also threw his gunbelt over his shoulder so he had the extra rounds.  Rol had to run further and hadn't gotten to his weapon yet.  In the thick of it, Munarshu had seen the shooter go down and repeated the maxim in his mind, "The duck was intentional until proven otherwise".  Sadly for him, that only left one tactic - Charge and fire.  To not do so would be to let the shooter make and execute a plan of their own to put him and his at a disadvantage.  Taking a half second to assess the situation before rushing in, to see if he had any backup, Munarshu noticed Fesic for the first time.

Trapped under debris, the gunner was no help to him and Munarshu could either step over to help Fesic up or deal with the shooter.  Knowing that helping Fesic would be inviting the shooter to get him in the back, Munarshu rushed the left side of the car, where there was a driver's portal which might be open and also provided a slight passage between the side of the grav-vehicle and the wall.  As he hit the wall and shifted into place, Munarshu saw the shooter was slightly crumpled on the floor and still moving as he reacted to Munarshu's sudden presence in the open portal.  In the split second during which Munarshu had to correct his aim, the gunman limply did his best to correct his aim too, and both weapons fired nearly simultaneously!

The pain and blast of the weapon's report were instantaneous, and all Munarshu could register was that the sound of the shooter's pistol meant it was really low caliber.  Then, everything went black.  From Fesic's point of view, he could see Munarshu rush in the direction he guessed the shooter was.  Then, Fesic heard the reports of gunfire, followed by the sound of at least one body dropping.  The instant of report marked a brief split second where Fesic stopped struggling to get free so he could hear, and when he heard no more, Fesic went back to struggling all that much harder.

As Rol was getting his pistol to the sound of new weapons reports, Terin had gotten his gauss pistol and returned to the wrecked living room to see Munarshu on the ground, bleeding from the chest.  His carcass was positioned between the damaged wall nearest the left side of the grav-car as he looked at it and the grav-car.  Terin could also tell the door to the grav-car was open, but couldn't see anyone or movement in the wreck.  The only movement Terin saw was Fesic fighting to free himself from the debris that had fallen on him.  And Terin wasn't close enough to see if, despite the hole in his chest, Munarshu was still breathing?

Not being the type of front-line trooper who'd have a clue, Terin surrendered the battlefield to the potentially armed and operational shooter while he went back into his stateroom to get his medical kit.  By the time Terin did get back to the common area, he was joined by Rol, who was now armed too.  As they met up, Rol nodded and raised his extended pistol in the universal sign of, 'Go ahead.  I'll cover you."  Ironically, it was a move of blind lady justice, because Terin had allowed the potential assassin all the time in the world to set up their next move and take him out as soon as he showed himself.  The good news was that Fesic was still moving, so it was possible he wasn't about to step out into an open shot.  Realizing it'd be nice to have some cover or control much too late, Terin crouched down and directly followed the iron of his sights as me moved forward with his pistol extended ahead of him.

Scooting in quickly and low, Terin was happy enough to hear Rol moving in directly behind him as he still heard Fesic struggling and approached Munarshu's body.  As he got close enough to Munarshu's body to not commit to the open door, Terin realized the engineer was still breathing, though he didn't know quite how?  Daring the final gap, Terin moved into the space of the open portal to see the would-be assassin on his back in the wreck of the gravcar cabin, his weapon lying on the floor just about an inch from his inert hand.  The man was out cold with a dart sticking out of his chest.

That was all Terin needed, as he turned back to Munarshu and began opening the medical kit to begin first aid.  Realizing he may have just put the cart before the horse yet again, in a combat zone, Terin called out, "Target down!"  Then, Terin pulled out a painkiller and hit Munarshu with it.  Happily for Terin, Munarshu was out cold, so the work would be easier.  Taking the scissors, he cut open the top of Munarshu's shipsuit, remembering it was ballistic cloth as he did.  He also cut through the executive armor which helped explain some of why the engineer was still alive?  The quick visual Terin gave the wound said the rest.  Somehow, the assassin had managed to get Munarshu directly in his sternum!

So, firing a small caliber pop-gun, even at close range, through armor and superman underwear added up to not enough force to shatter a human sternum.  Munarshu would end up with a nifty scar in the dead center of his chest which would really get the juices flowing for his blow-up doll!  Turning from that to what he knew how to do, Terin began cleaning and covering the wound.  From there, Terin could check Munarshu for other wounds and make sure there were no other threats to his health.  And as he did that, Terin also remembered to get on his comms and call for Mikah.  When she heard him, Mikah said, "we're on our way up." though she and Zimzod were winded as they climbed the stairs.

The joke was, EMS and Law enforcement would arrive sooner than the pair of knights because they could activate the elevators.  Terin continued his report after he had done what he could for Munarshu.  When he said, "We have one target down, due to tranq rounds, and your favorite boy got shot in the chest."  Mikah growled, "Tie him up", referring to the assassin so quickly she almost missed the second part of the report and it took a second for her to react.  As she stopped moving and caught her breath to say, "Him?  Awww!  Well, that's one problem solved" she mourned not being able to kill Rol herself, Terin said, "Not him.  Munarshu."

As Terin made things clear, she was disappointed she'd not been the one to shoot him but said she was on the way up to fix him.  She'd shoot him later.  While Rol stepped in and secured the prisoner, Terin gave Mikah a brief medical run down, to the best of his ability, as she and Zimzod caught their breath.  Since the emergency was over and everyone was likely to live, they could rest a bit.  As Rol and Terin worked, Fesic continued working to free himself until Rol stepped over and helped him out.  Unfortunately, as he pulled Fesic clear, the gunner could not get his leg to bear his weight or ignore the pain from his lower left leg and was afraid it was broken.  As this happened in the wrecked suite, Emkir and Aali were enjoying their morning while doing their best to keep the family from any news sources.  Something that would become noticeable to those who were observant soon enough.


Where everyone is at the end of the session:

   Aali: With Emkir and her family touring Atora City in the mid-afternoon
   Emkir: With Emkir and her family touring Atora City in the mid-afternoon
   Fesic: Rescued from the grav-car crash debris, his left leg must be checked to see if it's broken
   Mikah: With Zimzod, climbing the tower's stairs to get to the wrecked suite
   Munarshu: Out cold and under Terin's care after having been shot
   Rol: Helping Fesic after securing the tranq'ed prisoner and waiting for the authorities to arrive
   Terin: Caring for Munarshu to prevent shock and waiting for the authorities to arrive
   Zimzod: With Mikah, climbing the tower's stairs to get to the wrecked suite
   Aiden: cooking for another 11 days before being decanted( Decant Date: 110-1113 )

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Next: Searching From The Shadows